Re-starting a Literature Review

By: Ross Shannon

Ross' PhD Literature Review Mind Map
Ross' PhD Literature Review Mind Map

A literature review is a standard part of any postgraduate’s endeavours, and usually makes up the majority of your first year or two. A good review sets up the landscape that you’re going to work within, saving you from duplicating effort and allowing you to identify the key players in your field. You don’t necessarily have to reel off a big document summarising your reading, but if you do it’s a fine head start on the first chunk of your thesis.

I (Ross) had started my literature review last year, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of merely printing and filing papers without having read them. Then, in December at our second annual SRG-fest Joe gave an inspiring talk about structuring a literature review intelligently. Among his suggestions were to choose a handful of key conferences in your area and read every paper published in their proceedings for the last few years. For me, these conferences are places like InfoVis, ICAC, Pervasive and CHI.

Secondly he suggested building up a “mindmap” of the research areas that you’re actively engaging in. This has proven to be a very worthy excercise.

When drawn up like this my research interests seem both nicely structured but also worryingly broad. And I left out the stuff I’ll likely need to understand but currently have no interest in, like semantics, embedded systems and parallelism. My reading has been branching out a bit recently too; since I’ve started tracking my bookmarks on I discovered that I’m actually more interested in things like sociology and psychology than I thought.

If you imagine all the possible research that could be done in our field as a pie chart, the area I’m going to explore will end up being a thin sliver in that chart. Aaron always said that his job as my supervisor was to keep me anchored in that segment and not wander too far outside of it. Looks like he’s got his work cut out for him.

Source: Ross’ Blog